Medicine Under Siege
International law provides that medical personnel, their facilities
and vehicles, and their patients are immune from attack. Serb forces
blatantly violated the law in 1998 and 1999 by expelling Albanian
Kosovar doctors and patients from hospitals and clinics and harassing
them at checkpoints. On April 1, 1999, Serb police occupied Prizren
and armed the Serb hospital staff members, forcing Albanian surgeon
Dr. Gem Shukriu to leave. At noon, he and his family drove toward
the Albanian border. It took 24 hours to drive four miles.
I am a surgeon and know stress but I had the
worst stress in those 24 hours. One Serb soldier came with an automatic
gun and pointed it at my neck. It was my good fortune from God that
the line moved and I drove the car forward. His hand got caught
in the door so he pulled it back. I got over the border. I felt
like we were born again.
No matter what Serbs did, though, we did surgery
on them. We were dedicated to medical ethics.
Albanian doctors were also interrogated and detained
by Serb police. Dr Luan Jaha, a surgeon at Pristina Hospital, was
targeted in 1998 as a terrorist because he had treated
members of the KLA. He was imprisoned in Prizren and tortured. Other
doctors met similar fates. Some disappeared. Others remain in prison.
As a surgeon today, he gets paid a third less than UN translators.
There has been a long history of oppression of ethnic
Albanian physicians in the Serb-run health care system, including
mass firing from employment in 1990. In 2000, politicization of
health care was still in practice. Dr. Ilir Tolaj was deputy director
of Pristina Hospital and head of the infectious diseases unit. But
he was dismissed from his posts due to his political affiliation.
If you become a member of the KLA you can have your job back,
he was told. He said no.